The governments of Tajikistan and Uzbekistan are moving to head off a potentially large problem caused by the shrinking market for migrant laborers in Russia.
For the last decade, millions of citizens from the two countries, and many from Kyrgyzstan, have been making the journey to Russia to find work due to lack of jobs at home.
The prospect of huge numbers of migrant laborers returning home with little chance of finding employment raises fears about social unrest.
So in Dushanbe and Tashkent authorities have been pondering how to absorb this native influx into the domestic labor market. They both hit on the same idea -- redistribution -- but what is more interesting is they are both looking to the same country as a release valve: South Korea.
RFE/RL’s Uzbek Service, known locally as Ozodlik, reported that Uzbekistan’s Ministry of Labor and Social Protection inquired about raising the quota for Uzbek workers when a South Korean parliamentary delegation visited in June. Ozodlik’s sources at the ministry could not say how many more work places Uzbek authorities were seeking.
Under a 2007 bilateral agreement, South Korea has been willing to accept up to 22,500 workers from Uzbekistan. Currently there are more than 15,000 citizens of Uzbekistan working in South Korea.
Tajikistan’s Minister of Labor and Migration met with officials from the South Korean Embassy in Dushanbe at the end of June, also inquiring about the possibilities for Tajik migrant laborers to work in South Korea. Tajikistan’s independent Asia-Plus news agency reported on the meeting but could only say the two sides "expressed a readiness to expand cooperation."
It is unclear how many Tajik migrant laborers currently work in South Korea but certainly fewer than Uzbek migrant laborers. And for both Central Asian countries the number of workers South Korea would be willing to accept represents a small percentage of the number Tajik and Uzbek citizens who are already or likely to be looking for work in the coming months.
Tajik President Emomali Rahmon instituted a new measure in June to boost employment in his country. According to RFE/RL’s Tajik Service, known locally as Radio Ozodi, Rahmon signed a resolution stating that 90 percent of the work personnel at all foreign companies doing business in Tajikistan must be “local specialists.”
Ozodi noted that previous regulations required that 70 percent of the personnel working for foreign companies in Tajikistan must be citizens of Tajikistan.
Other Central Asian countries, notably Kazakhstan, have included quotas for local hiring and purchasing of goods and materials. But Kazakhstan, with its great hydrocarbon deposits, uranium, ferrous and nonferrous metals, has more to offer than Tajikistan and the political and economic risks in Kazakhstan are far lower.
Still, Tajik economist Sobir Vazirov pointed out to Ozodi that while local workers are paid, say, 1,000 somoni (about $160) per month, foreign workers at the same companies are probably making 10,000 somoni per month, so employers would actually save money by employing more domestic labor.
These solutions represent only a bandage for a gaping wound but they are a sign the Tajik and Uzbek governments understand the potential problem they have and are trying to alleviate the situation.
RFE/RL’s Tajik and Uzbek Services contributed to this report